Vucevic scores 43 points as Bulls beat Warriors - but why did it take so long?
One step forward after three steps back.
That's what it felt like for the Bulls on Sunday. They ended a three-game losing streak overall and 11-game skid against Golden State by outscoring the Warriors 132-118 at the United Center.
Center Nikola Vucevic matched his career-high by scoring 43 points. He hit 18 of 31 shots from the field and added 13 rebounds.
Clearly, Vucevic had an advantage inside against Golden State bigs Kevon Looney and Draymond Green. But Vucevic also went 5 of 10 from 3-point land.
This performance begged the question: Why didn't the Bulls do more of this in the first two games DeMar DeRozan missed due to a right quad strain? Or why haven't they done more of this since giving up Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks in a trade to get Vucevic?
"When I get in my spots and I'm able to play within my strengths, I feel I'm a very efficient player," Vucevic said. "It's not the first time I've done this, so I know I can do it. It's just getting my in my spots."
Vucevic has done this before. He scored 43 points against the Bulls on Feb. 5, 2021, roughly six weeks before being sent north from Orlando.
Vucevic has some faults, but it's been demonstrated many times the Bulls' offense flows better when he's involved. If he can draw double-teams in the post, others will be open. But too often he's ignored.
Coach Billy Donovan had an explanation for why Vucevic couldn't take advantage of favorable matchups against Washington and Oklahoma City in the previous two games, when Vucevic scored 15 and 19 points.
"They doubled him," Donovan said. "If he's double-teamed, he's going to pass the ball. OKC, they doubled from the back side every time he caught it, so he's going to pass the ball out. The same thing with Washington, they came down and brought help, and he's a very willing passer."
Donovan talked about making it tougher on opponents to send double-teams by getting Vucevic the ball in the flow of the offense, rather than straight post-up plays. The Bulls didn't do much of that in the previous two games, and committed several turnovers off bad passes while trying to throw it inside to the 6-foot-10 center.
On Sunday, they saw how valuable Vucevic can be offensively, but he needs help getting the ball.
"I was involved a lot, so I was able to be myself," Vucevic said. "I think the first two games we played, I think it was an adjustment for everyone. We got stagnant a lot of times.
"We were playing a little too fast, kind of out of control, trying to figure it out without DeMar instead of kind of slowing the game down and playing within the strengths of whatever players are out there at that moment."
DeRozan missed his third straight game with the quad injury. Zach LaVine, playing with a hand injury, scored 27 points Sunday, but it's clear the finger affects his shooting. LaVine has gone 2-for-16 from 3-point range in the last two games, but he got to the foul line again, hitting 12 of 14 at the line.
"It's the same thing," LaVine said. "You've got to deal with it, play through it. Get to the free-throw line, it's easier to shoot free throws than 3s right now."
Before the game, Donovan described LaVine's injury as excessive swelling on a knuckle in his shooting hand, though LaVine wore no extra padding.
The Bulls (20-24) also got more help from the supporting cast as Coby White (15 points), Alex Caruso (12), Ayo Dosunmu (12) and Patrick Williams (10) all reached double-figures.
Klay Thompson hit 8 of 15 3-pointers and led Golden State with 26 points, while Steph Curry scored 20. The Warriors dropped to 4-17 on the road, which is second-worst in the NBA ahead of Houston.
This was Thompson's first game at the United Center since making an NBA-record 14 3-point baskets on Oct. 28, 2018. Thompson missed the next two seasons due to injuries and didn't suit up when the Warriors were in town last year.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game he spent Saturday night in Geneva at the Chicago Steel hockey game, because Steel forward Mack Celebrini's father Rick is on the Warriors staff.
The Bulls departed Sunday night for Paris, where they'll play the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.